The China’s Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC) officials has released a statement on Tuesday stating that they’ll be ready to launch the next-generation spaceplane by 2020, says a report of Chinese news service Xinhua.
The move indicates China’s plan to made significant headway on the development of a highly secretive advance spacecraft.
At first glance, it may not seem to be a remarkable feat: reusable space rockets have been making headlines consistently since SpaceX successfully launched a used Falcon 9 earlier this year.
Moreover, the company has been flying missions aboard reusable Falcon 9 rockets to the International Space Station, as well as to ferry satellites from private corporations and even several nations.
Beijing’s new space plane — note, not space rocket — is expected to be different.
According to CASTC researcher Chen Hongbo, unlike traditional spacecrafts, this new spacecraft “will fly into the sky like an aircraft,” Xinhua reports.
This would, then, differentiate it from rockets, hence the name spaceplane.
According to Ars Technica report, supposedly, the spaceplane will take off from a runway, then fire its ramjet propulsion once high in the atmosphere. At that point, the plane will shift to rocket motors in order to reach orbital space.
“It is meant to transport both crew and cargo into orbital space,” Chen said.
The official also added that the technology behind the space plane would also allow for easy maintenance, which China envisions will lower the cost of future launches, while at the same time increasing their frequency.
This will significantly improve China’s space efforts, which now include plans for both the Moon and Mars.
Speaking in a Global Space Exploration Conference in Beijing, Liu Shiquan, China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation vice director, said “China is developing its own reusable earth-to-orbit space vehicles that can take off and land horizontally.”
“We have already finished several crucial ground tests for engines and [other key components], yielding remarkable achievements.”
Meanwhile, if Beijing will succeed in its plan in 2020, it’ll become the first to fly an orbital spacecraft launched from a runway and designed to land back again on one.